Noticing Magic Everywhere

Kate Comings' journal


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Walking with Ramona

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When I was in fifth grade, my teacher, Mr. Glod, brought me a book called Otis Spofford. “I think you’ll enjoy this,” he said. I mostly read books about horses, especially Marguerite Henry’s books. I doubted I’d enjoy this one, but Mr. Glod turned out to be right. I loved Otis Spofford. The book was about a mischievous boy and his hilarious mishaps. It was by Beverly Cleary. She hadn’t written many books yet, but I read everything she had. The books were set in a Northeast Portland neighborhood near Grant Park. I loved reading about Henry Huggins and his dog, Beezus and Ramona Quimby, and Ellen Tebbits. Ramona ended up becoming the main character in the books set in that neighborhood, but when I was reading them, she didn’t have any of her own books yet. I never forgot the kids on Klickitat Street, and years later, when I moved to Portland, I would walk along Klickitat Street and try to figure out where they would have lived.

This last Christmas, I received a wonderful little book, Walking with Ramona: Exploring Beverly Cleary’s Portland, by Laura O. Foster.

There’s a wealth of Portland history in that book, as well as a walking tour and map showing where various events in the books took place. Beverly Cleary, then Beverly Bunn, lived in that neighborhood in the 1920s and went to the elementary school on 33rd and Hancock, which has since been named after her. She based her stories on her own childhood. I took the tour one frigid, windy afternoon. Then, for the first time, I read the Ramona books. These books are amazing. Beverly Cleary remembers exactly what it was like to be an elementary school child, and her vivid stories brought back my own vaguely remembered school days.

When the Bunns left their farm in Yamhill to move to Portland, their first house was in the Sullivan’s Gulch area. That house is no longer standing.

Their next house was in my own neighborhood, on NE 77th Avenue. Beverly’s parents didn’t like the icy Columbia Gorge winds that we get here, so they moved near Grant Park after one year.

img_3052 The NE 77th Avenue house

I plan to do the walking tour again now that I have read the Ramona books. For now, I located the two houses in this neighborhood where the Bunn family lived. The first is on Hancock Street, the “Klickitat” street in the books. She changed the name because she liked the name “Klickitat.”

img_3048 The NE Hancock house

The Bunns moved to this house on NE 37th Avenue when Beverly was in 7th grade.

img_3050 The NE 37th Avenue house

Beverly Cleary also wrote two memoirs, A Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet. The second book ends when she wrote her first book, Henry Huggins. She is now 100 years old!


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My friend and I ate here for the last time today.

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I will miss this place. Gustav’s pub and adjoining Rheinlander restaurant will be closing its doors after 53 years. I’m not sure of the reason, but sadly, nothing lasts forever. The turreted, half-timbered building is a Northeast Sandy Boulevard landmark, the place to go when you want German comfort food. I have dined there with friends and family so many times, it’s sad to imagine the neighborhood without it. It’s cozy and comforting like a big hug, and I included it in my upcoming book, Zen Flowers, before I had any idea it would be closing.

In this excerpt, Brendan had bad news. He’s broken-hearted and his brother Niall, the narrator, has just picked him up at the airport:

My stomach growls, reminding me that it’s well into the afternoon and I haven’t eaten since breakfast early this morning.

“I heard that,” he says.

“Are you hungry, Brendan?”

“He gives me a sideways look and his mouth twists. “What do you think?”

“Stupid question,” I say. “Sorry.”

“I could do with a beer, though,” he says.

“That can be arranged.” I turn off 82nd onto Sandy Blvd, heading for the closest brewery, but at the last minute, I change my mind. Gustav’s, the German pub across the street with its cozy bar, all heavy dark wood and dim lighting, would be more comforting. I pull into the parking lot behind the turreted, half-timbered building, and we get out of the car. Brendan lights a cigarette and takes a deep drag. We go around to the front of the place, taking our time while he smokes. He puts his cigarette out in the ashtray by the entrance, and we go inside.

The blonde waitress grabs a couple of menus and shows us to one of the side booths. We both order Spaten Optimator; dark, rich, and elemental.

Brendan takes a long pull at his, then another, and begins to relax. “Thanks, Big Brother,” he says. “This place is a balm for sore nerves.”

I nod. “I know. They have a lovely shepherd’s pie here, if you change your mind.”

“Think I did just change my mind.”

I watch him across the table. The fire has gone out of his eyes. I hate seeing him so subdued. The waitress is eyeing him, too—actually both of us. We look alike, both a bit worse for wear like shipwreck survivors. She’ll be wanting to take care of us; women are funny that way.

We both order the shepherd’s pie, chunks of meat in brown sauce, covered with mashed potatoes and melted cheese. I order the sausage platter to split between us, and when the food comes, we dig in.

“Ah, this is grand, Niall,” he says, and drains the beer in his glass. “Thanks for putting up with my morosity. It means a lot.”

“Goes without saying.”

Cozy booths inside Gustav's.

Cozy booths inside Gustav’s.

The bar.

The bar.


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It felt like forever…

My book, Deliver Us From Evil is ready and available on Amazon. It went live on the Winter Solstice–how special is that?

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Kidnapped during an assignment in Afghanistan, Irish photographer Niall O’Sullivan and American journalist Philip Korda are hostages in a remote underground bunker outside war-torn Kandahar. Will they be ransomed before their captors run out of patience? Starved and beaten, they despair of ever seeing their loved ones again.

As if that weren’t enough, Niall’s ex-brother-in-law, Conor, wants him dead and will stop at nothing to make sure that happens.


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Winter is a time for waiting…

Portland is blanketed with snow, with some icy, slippery spots. Winter doesn’t officially begin for almost a week, but you’d never know. The way I see it, winter arrived with last week’s ice storm and gale winds and a power outage that made me despair of ever getting my iMac back up afterwards. We had lots of tree damage, including my poor pine tree. The ice was beautiful though, and I did get outside with my camera before it melted.

Hawthorne berries

Hawthorne berries

Frozen pine needles

Frozen pine needles

Rose hips

Rose hips

Because the streets are slippery, I won’t be driving until the temperatures get above freezing, which they have not. It’s a good time to settle in and wait it out while I revise my next book, Zen Flowers.

I’m waiting to receive the final proof copy of Deliver Us From Evil, which needs approval before the book will be available on Amazon. I can’t wait to hold the book in my hands after so many edits and revisions. I’m like a kid the night before Christmas. For me, the hardest waiting is right before the end.


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DELIVER US FROM EVIL Cover!

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I bought a license to use the Silas Manhood cover image I mentioned in my last post and hired the CreateSpace custom cover service to do the actual cover. When I got the email notifying me that the cover proof was ready, I was afraid to open it. What if I didn’t like it? I have invested so much of myself in my characters and their story that a disappointing cover would be so much more than, well, a disappointing cover. I needn’t have worried. I’m so excited. Thrilled. Happy. It has continuity with the two previous covers, but is also a bit more ominous, as this novel is darker than the others.

Book Three in the Divine Presents series, Deliver Us From Evil continues the story begun in A Shack on the Outskirts of Heaven and Stolen Son.

Kidnapped during an assignment in Afghanistan, Irish photographer Niall O’Sullivan and American journalist Philip Korda are hostages in a remote underground bunker outside war-torn Kandahar. Will they be ransomed before their captors run out of patience? Starved and beaten, they despair of ever seeing their loved ones again.

As if that weren’t enough, Niall’s ex-brother-in-law, Conor, wants him dead and will stop at nothing to make sure that happens.

I’m waiting to receive a proof copy of the paperback book, and after I approve that, it will be available on Amazon. There will also be a Kindle version.


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A New Kitchen, and Book Cover Woes

After a summer of home repairs and a drastic kitchen remodel, the final draft of the third book in my series, Deliver Us From Evil, is done, a lot later than I planned. This one’s darker than the others:

Kidnapped during an assignment in Afghanistan, photographer Niall O’Sullivan and journalist Philip Korda are hostages in a remote underground bunker outside war-torn Kandahar. Will they be ransomed before their captors run out of patience? Starved and beaten, they despair of ever seeing their loved ones again.

As if that weren’t enough, Niall’s ex-brother-in-law, Conor, wants him dead and will stop at nothing to make sure that happens.

I had a rather grim cover in mind, showing a prisoner locked in an underground cell, the title in stark, gritty-looking manual Smith Corona type. I had a very specific picture in mind, and it wasn’t something I could order from the Amazon cover service that did my last two covers. I couldn’t find any stock photos that would fit, either.

Next, I thought of a night image with a silhouetted man on a gritty city street gazing up at the stars. I started taking photos of alleys and stuff.

Then I got interrupted (I’m not complaining) — I had put in for a kitchen remodel back in January. I had fought with a dilapidated kitchen for 15 years and it was way beyond time. The contractor was ready to start. I learned about cabinets, countertops, subway tiles, sinks, and faucets, and it was glorious.

Crowded and shabby

Crowded and shabby

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Finished

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Open and airy

I took a few days off from kitchen decisions to go to the Willamette Writers Conference. I cannot recommend this enough. To be in a big hotel where everyone you meet is a writer… writing is a solitary, sometimes lonely business and it’s like a gigantic gathering of your own tribe. Not to mention how much I learned this time around. Full of new ideas, I rewrote Deliver Us From Evil all over again after the conference.

Lee Moyer, a book cover artist, was there providing free advice. I brought photos of the first two books in my series. He said Amazon did a great job and that my next cover needs to have the same elements so people will recognize it as belonging to the series; namely the title font, a glowing background, and a darker foreground. Oh. Time to start over.

I found stock photos of Afghan children like the kids in Niall’s photographs that could be adapted, but when I was about to buy them, I found that they can’t be used for fictional book covers. In despair, I googled stock photos for book covers and found the most generic stuff you could imagine, the same photos we had to pick from when I wrote online for Demand Media.

Hours later, I happened on a site with images to die, or in my case, sign your life away for because they have only a three-year license. I’m trying to find out whether I can change the cover later on without having to change the whole book and ISBN numbers, or whether I will have to keep renewing that not-cheap license every three years.

Happily, the cover for my next book, Zen Flowers, will be a lot easier.